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Kevin Garnett’s injury spelled doom for this unit in the 2008-09 season. Much like the guards, the Celtics lacked enough big bodies when Garnett went down. Glen Davis was forced to start and Brian Scalabrine was moved into a more prominent role. Mikki Moore was signed to provide another big body, but he did not make a difference on the court. In the playoffs, this became an issue as the Celtics lacked the depth to deal with players when they got in foul trouble. We did see both Kendrick Perkins and Davis make big strides in the playoffs, but they could not stay on the court long enough and the Magic took advantage of the mismatches to overtake the Celtics in the Conference Semifinals.
This season the Celtics hope to bring back a fully healthy Kevin Garnett and they welcome the additions of Rasheed Wallace and Shelden Williams. Overall, this unit comes into the 2009-10 season with more depth and is more prepared for a devastating injury.
Once again Pierce emerged as the leader for the loaded Celtics roster as he led the team in games started, minutes and points. His offensive output was basically identical to the previous year (20.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.6 apg), but what really has improved over the last two seasons is his defense. Since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived at the hub, Pierce hasn’t had to shoulder the entire load offensively and it has shown with better defensive play and improved field goal and free throw percentages.
Expect Pierce to be the Celtics go-to-guy once again as the Celtics go for Banner No. 18. Pierce settled for more jump shots than normal last season, but he’s was dead accurate on them with a 49.3 FG%. At 31 years old, he is the youngest of the big three so he will be expected to get the most minutes once again this season.
Garnett saw his season come to an end in March despite his best efforts to make a comeback for the playoffs. There was speculation that he would have come back if the Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but I would think if that was the case we would have seen him in the Orlando series when the team was facing elimination. It was clear the Celtics missed Garnett’s presence in the paint not so much offensively, but definitely on the defensive end. It would have been nice to see him when the Celtics were struggling with the matchups against Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis.
Reports out of Celtics training camp are that Garnett is ready to go and has been practicing at full speed. He has looked good in the preseason, which is good news, because if the Celtics can get their big man back, not only will they improve their defense immensely, but the team’s tenacity will be off the charts. You think Garnett isn’t going to be fired up after letting another title chance slip away last season? Look for Doc Rivers to protect his big man by keeping his minutes down with a healthy rotation between Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and Kendrick Perkins.
After six years in the pros, the 24-year-old finally seems to be coming into his own. Last season Perkins shot 57.7% from the field and increased his rebound intake by 2 rebounds per game. Overall, Perkins scored 8.5 points per game while pulling down 8.2 rebounds per game. The biggest improvement in his game was defensively. He single-handedly was able to shut down Dwight Howard in the playoffs and he has become a shot blocking presence after averaging 2 blocks per game a year ago.
The Celtics relied on Perkins more after Garnett got hurt and he responded positively, especially in the playoffs. He has become a serious defensive presence, which is important for the Celtics. Perkins still turns the ball over too much for my liking and seems to be in foul trouble more often than not, but he is only 25 years old and is just entering his prime so hopefully these problems get fixed sooner rather than later. Expect for him to have a slightly reduced role with the addition of Rasheed Wallace and the re-signing of Glen Davis, but there is no doubt that he is the starter for this team.
‘Sheed was brought over from the Pistons via free agency and for good reason. Last year, when Garnett went down the Celtics saw how thin they were at center and power forward. The addition of Wallace not only adds depth, but it adds a lot of versatility because Wallace will see time at small/power forward and center. He is a big man who is a good defender and can also knock down the three, which is something the Celtics lacked last season after they lost James Posey. (Remember how important he was on the road to the championship?) Hopefully ‘Sheed can keep his temper in check.
In the postseason, we really saw Davis grow into his own offensively. His numbers jumped from 7.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in the regular season to 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in the playoffs. He showed us what he is capable of and reports out of camp are that “Big Baby” is slimmer and more fit than ever. The Celtics signed Davis to a two-year, $6.3 million contract because they believe in his abilities and while he will receive a lesser role this season, he is always ready to jump in and contribute.
Scalabrine went from a player fans made fun of to a player fans loved. He is not the most consistent player on the floor, but no one can question his work ethic and effort level. Scalabrine always dives for loose balls and plays tough defense. He is limited athletically, but then again he won’t be on the floor very often barring any injuries.
Williams signed a one-year deal with the Celtics this offseason and so far has been a huge bust for a former fifth overall pick. He is the fifth big man on the roster and will get some play because Doc Rivers uses his entire bench. It is a low-risk, high-reward deal because Williams could really play in college and has been an effective defensive player in the pros so far. His offense…well that’s a different story…but we don’t need him to score many points.
Bill Walker showed promise last season in the little play he got for the Celtics. He showed us all what a great athlete he is with some show stopping dunks and shot an impressive 62.1% from the floor. Unfortunately he suffered yet another knee injury and recently underwent surgery to repair it. This is just another road block in what could be a nice career for Walker, but the Celtics have not set a definite timetable for his return (though it should be around six to eight weeks for his recovery time).
With his improved physique, I think Big Baby is going to step into the Leon Powe role. He will get limited minutes, but provide the team with high energy and with good offensive numbers. He’s not as effective of a rebounder as Powe, but he is a big body who will be effective defensively down low.
Wallace has a bad reputation for being hot headed and it shows with his 296 career technical fouls. If this were 28-year-old Rasheed Wallace, then I wouldn’t think this transition would work out for him, but at 35 years old Wallace has to know that he is on the back nine and is better fit for a role that limits him to 25-30 minutes per game rather than 30-35. The Celtics team is full of veterans that will keep Wallace in check if he gets out of line, but I don’t expect that to be a problem. I would think a championship is more important to him than personal stats this late in his career.
Obivously it is impossible to predict the health of another human being for the next six months, but I can tell you that Doc Rivers is going to do anything he can to keep Garnett, and any of the big three, out of harm’s way. It’s no secret that these guys aren’t what they used to be, but Danny Ainge has provided Rivers will sufficient bench depth so that these aging all-stars can get plenty of rest during the regular season.